Some last minute thoughts before you head to the polls tomorrow

I know many of you have already voted, but for those who have not, here is a word from the last pages of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Where does all of this refection leave us? How might hope, humility, and history inform the way we white American evangelicals think about politics and other forms of public engagement? I hope that what I have written here might spur conversations and initiatives born out of possible answers to this question. Evangelicals can do better than Donald Trump. His campaign and presidency have drawn on a troubling pattern of American evangelicalism that is willing to yield to old habits grounded in fear, nostalgia, and the search for power. Too many of its leaders (and their followers) have traded their Christian witness for a mess of political pottage and a few federal judges. It should not surprise us that people are leaving evangelicalism or no longer associating themselves with that label–or, in some cases, leaving the church altogether.

It is time to take a long hard look at what we have become. Believe me, we have a lot of work to do.

Believe me.

And I am hoping that I will no longer needs these memes after this week. They were created by my wonderful PR expert Rachel Brewer. Thanks again, Rachel!

Four years that I can’t get back. But the work was necessary

I have spent a lot of time writing about Trump in the past four years. Most of you by now are familiar with my 2018 book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and my 2018 tour. One Twitter pundit suggested that he could not understand how I could devote four years of my intellectual life to writing about this president. I thought it was an arrogant comment (no, it wasn’t @OldLife–:-)), but I digress…

I am not sure if I am done writing about evangelicals and Trump, and I have temporarily shelved some other more traditional history writing to focus on this subject, but I think what I have done over the last four years has been necessary work. As a working class kid of immigrant grandparents, a teenage convert to evangelicalism with three degrees from evangelical schools, and a Ph.D in American history, I concluded (with a few nudges from friends) that I was uniquely qualified to speak to this moment. I decided very early that I could not stand on the sidelines as this Trumpian debacle unfolded.

But I also resonate with Michelle Goldberg’s recent piece at The New York Times: “Four Wasted Years Thinking About Donald Trump.” Here is a taste:

But when I think back, from my obviously privileged position, on the texture of daily life during the past four years, all the attention sucked up by this black hole of a president has been its own sort of loss. Every moment spent thinking about Trump is a moment that could have been spent contemplating, creating or appreciating something else. Trump is a narcissistic philistine, and he bent American culture toward him.

Read the entire piece here.

Women: Don’t worry about it, Trump will get your husbands back to work and preserve your domestic suburban lifestyle

When I talk about my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I often discuss the meaning of the phrase “Make America Great Again.” If Trump can tell me when America was “great,” I can enter the conversation as a historian and perhaps say something intelligent about what life was like for all Americans during that era. Only then can we decide whether such an era was “great” or whether we want to return to such “greatness.”

Last night in Michigan we got a good sense of how Trump views women in the “great” America he wants to bring back. Watch:

“Patriot Churches” call masks “face diapers”

For more than a decade, I have been chronicling how many white evangelicals have a hard time distinguishing between Christianity and nationalism. I wrote a book about this in 2011 and it was a major theme of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Over at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports on “patriotic churches.” I understand that these churches exist, but in my view
“patriotic church” is an oxymoron.

Here is a taste:

This is a Patriot Church, part of an evolving network of nondenominational start-up congregations that say they want to take the country back for God. While most White conservative Christian churches might only touch on politics around election time and otherwise choose to keep the focus during worship on God, politics and religion are inseparable here. The Tennessee congregation is one of three Patriot Churches that formed in September. The other two are near Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and in Spokane, Wash., and Peters says he is talking with several more pastors of existing churches who want to join them.

The 50 or so people in attendance may identify as born-again or just as generic “Bible-loving” Christians. Peters’s flock is not affiliated with a specific denomination, but it does have a distinct identity. The Patriot Churches belong to what religion experts describe as a loosely organized Christian nationalist movement that has flourished under President Trump. In just four years, he has helped reshape the landscape of American Christianity by elevating Christians once considered fringe, including Messianic Jews, preachers of the prosperity gospel and self-styled prophets. At times, this made for some strange bedfellows, but the common thread among them is a sense of being under siege and a belief that America has been and should remain a Christian nation.

From his lectern during the worship service, Peters rails against perceived attacks on First Amendment freedoms, decrying government mandates and calling masks “face diapers.”

Read the rest here.

Evangelicals and Trump: What have we learned?

I published Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump in June 2018. I wrote the book in November and December of 2017 and finished it on New Years Day 2018.

Since then, we have learned a lot more about Trump and evangelicalism. Recently, historian Michael Hamilton of The Issachar Fund asked me to pick the best three books on Trump and evangelicalism and write a short piece on how these books have shaped my thinking since Believe Me.

The three books I chose were Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne, Sarah Posner, Unholy, and Gerardo Marti’s Blindspot. Here is a taste of my piece at Faith and Leadership, a publication of Duke Divinity School:

Upon learning that an overwhelming number of white evangelical voters — 81% by some estimates — voted for Donald Trump in November 2016, I was shocked, dismayed and angry.

How could my fellow evangelicals support a narcissistic reality television star with a checkered moral past and an adverse relationship with the truth? On the evening of the election, as I watched evangelicals take a victory lap on their social media feeds, I wrote a tweet of my own: “If this is evangelicalism — I am out.”

About a month later, in a piece(link is external) for The Atlantic, religion writer Jonathan Merritt quoted my tweet. Within hours, two types of messages started filling my inbox. Evangelical friends wrote to encourage me to stay in the fold. “We need your voice,” they told me.

Nonevangelical friends — Christians and non-Christians alike — wrote to praise me for my tweet. Many said that it was “about time” I disavowed a religious movement with a long history of racism, patriarchy and intolerance.

After a few months of soul searching and prayer, I concluded that I was not yet willing to abandon the word “evangelical” to describe my religious identity. For me, an “evangelical” is someone who believes in the gospel, the “good news” that Jesus died and rose again to reconcile broken human beings to God.

I believe that evangelicals, motivated by the demand the “good news” makes on our lives, have done wonderful things in this world. We have a long history of loving our neighbors, serving the poor and oppressed, and working for justice. The gospel transforms sinners into saints and offers hope to the hopeless.

Four years later, I am still an evangelical Christian.

Nevertheless, as an American historian, I also know that evangelicals have participated in some of the nation’s darkest moments, and in many cases, have led the way.

Read the rest here.

“I hope this person believes this. Some days I am not even sure I do.”

Like most people, I sat down early Tuesday evening, November 8, 2016, to watch election returns fully expecting that, by the time I went to bed, Hillary Clinton would be declared the country’s first female president.

Instead, I saw my home state of Pennsylvania fall to Trump, followed by the Clinton “firewall” states of Michigan and Wisconsin. I was shocked. I was saddened. I was angry. But my emotions were less about the new president-elect and more about the large number of my fellow evangelicals who voted for him.

Five days later–the Lord’s Day–I took my seat in the sanctuary of the central Pennsylvania megachurch where I had worshipped with my family for the last sixteen years. As I looked around at my fellow worshippers, I could not help thinking that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of every ten people in that sanctuary–my brothers and sisters in my community of faith–had voted for the new president-elect. This seemed to reflect deep divisions in how we understand the world, and it was deeply distressing.

I still attend that church, but I have not visited in person since the outbreak of COVID-19. I wish I could say that COVID-19 is the only reason I haven’t returned. It’s been four years since that post-election Sunday and there are days when my anger and disappointment are still raw. This is not an indictment of the pastoral staff at my church or most of the members–past and present–of the church elder board. They are serious Christians who have been doing their best to navigate this season without dividing the church. I appreciate the work they are doing and I can tell when they are trying to bring biblical faith to bear on the times without naming names or “getting political.” I do not attend a pro-Trump church.

But I also get the sense that my church is keeping me at arms length. This is probably a smart move. I am a divisive figure. I have tried to use my voice and platform to criticize a morally corrupt President of the United States and the conservative media infrastructure, including the Christian media, that props him up.

Some of my fellow churchgoers have read Believe Me and have sent me wonderful notes of encouragement and support. Others have made it clear that I am a negative influence in the Christian community. When I taught a Sunday school class on Christianity and politics (a class in which I don’t think I ever mentioned Trump), I got a lot of positive feedback. I also got some pretty strong negative feedback.

Why am I bringing this all up right now?

Today I had an emotional conversation with a Christian I love. This person does not understand how friends, family, and fellow Christians can support Donald Trump. Tuesday night’s debate really set this person off. How could Christians vote for a man who refuses to condemn racism, lies endlessly, and lacks basic empathy? This person is considering giving-up on church and the Christian faith generally. She/he is trying to hold together her/his friendships with Trump supporters, but does not know how to do it and still be true to her/his deepest convictions.

We both had tears in our eyes. I didn’t know what kind of advice to give this person, but I certainly understood. Over the last four years I have had old friends cut me off because of my strong criticism of the president. I have had present friends pull back. I have had dozens and dozens of people tell me that they have stopped going to church (COVID-19 has become a convenient excuse). People who I have not communicated with in over thirty years have come out of the woodwork to condemn me in public forums.

I don’t want this person to give-up on Christianity. I encouraged this person to lean into our shared faith and not pull away. Current events have led me to read the Bible with new eyes, pray in different ways, and rethink how I live my Christian life. It is all a work of progress, but I feel like I have started a new spiritual journey of sorts. I shared all of this with this person. We must continue to live as people of hope and try not to let the anger overwhelm us. I hope this person believes this. Some days I am not even sure I do.

Many Americans do not see this as an ordinary election between two candidates committed to basic principles of decency, civility, truth, science, reason, and human dignity. This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama (2008) or Al Gore and George W. Bush (2000) or Bill Clinton and Bob Dole (1996). This is an election between one man who believes that the president should be a steward of democracy and another man who is a racist, nativist, and narcissist willing to undermine democracy with almost every word he speaks.

And the majority of white evangelicals, whether they love Trump or held their nose and voted for him, are complicit. I know that statement will anger a lot of people. But how long will evangelicals support–either directly or indirectly through their silence– this immoral president?

When Trump is gone, I hope and pray I will be ready to participate in the healing work that needs to be done. But right now the cancer at the heart of the republic must be cut out. Americans have the chance to do this on November 3rd. As I have said before at this blog, let’s remember that Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (“bind up the nation’s wounds” and “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace”) occurred after the Northern victory over the slave-holding Confederacy was all but secured.

UPDATE: I wish the President and First Lady well as they deal with COVID. I am praying for them and for all who are struggling with this terrible virus.

What the election of 1800 can teach us about the peaceful transition of power in the United States

There are so many lessons we can learn from the presidential election of 1800. For example, when we claim that we are living through “the most divisive campaign” in history, 1800 offers perspective:

The election of 1800 also figured prominently in the Broadway play Hamilton, although much of its treatment of the election is historically inaccurate.

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I focused on the religious aspects of the election. Many northeastern evangelicals believed that if Jefferson was elected he would come for their Bibles and close their churches. (Sound familiar?)

And as Sara Georgini of the Papers of John Adams reminds us in a recent piece at Perspectives on History Daily, the election of 1800 also offers some lessons on the peaceful transition of power. Here is a taste of her piece:

John Adams chased the dawn right out of Washington, DC, departing the half-built city shortly after four o’clock in the morning on March 4, 1801. He knew it was time to go. In a battering election that pitted Adams against his friend-turned-rival Thomas Jefferson, the New England Federalist suffered a humiliating and life-changing defeat. His popular predecessor, George Washington, swung into a second term easily. But the rules of the game had changed: Adams faced violent factionalism from within his administration, a seething press, rampant electioneering, and the eruption of party politics.

To many, Adams’s track record in office was controversial at best, thanks to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts and an unpopular foreign policy with France. While the second president summered at his farm in Quincy, Massachusetts, Alexander Hamilton and a newly minted corps of campaigners trawled for votes. Fanning out across cities and towns, they set political fires in the local press that blazed across the very states Adams needed to win, and wouldn’t. He watched from afar, loathing the campaign tactics taking root. “If my administration cannot be defended by the intrinsic merit of my measures & by my own authority, may it be damned,” he wrote to his son Thomas Boylston Adams in late August. The elder Adams held strong opinions on elections, informed by his close study of classical republics and Renaissance state formation. He hoped to be known as the 18th-century ideal of a disinterested public servant, so a hard loss at the polls meant one thing: Transfer power peacefully to a new president, thereby safeguarding the office and the nation it served.

The election of 1800 did not invent this idea, but it did engrave America into history as a democracy. Both men vying for the presidency would have known Plato’s caution. Democracies thrived on the verge of oligarchy, and executive power—embodied by either president or king—risked turning into tyranny the longer its tenure. When did John Adams know his presidency was over, and what did he do about it? In the most technical sense, he lived (awkwardly) with the impending loss of power from December 1800, when key electoral votes failed to tip his way. He was not eager to stick around and watch the next inauguration.

Read the rest here.

Listen to our interview with Sara in episode 50 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

What does Donald Trump really think about the court evangelicals?

Earlier this month we did a post about Trump allegedly calling evangelical beliefs “bulls–t.” Many court evangelicals rejected this story because it came from former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, a convicted criminal.

But now, thanks to the reporting of McKay Coppins at The Atlantic, we know that Cohen is not the only one who claims that Trump mocks evangelicals and their beliefs. Here is a taste of his recent piece:

The conservative Christian elites Trump surrounds himself with have always been more clear-eyed about his lack of religiosity than they’ve publicly let on. In a September 2016 meeting with about a dozen influential figures on the religious right—including the talk-radio host Eric Metaxas, the Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, and the theologian Wayne Grudem—the then-candidate was blunt about his relationship to Christianity. In a recording of the meeting obtained by The Atlantic, the candidate can be heard shrugging off his scriptural ignorance (“I don’t know the Bible as well as some of the other people”) and joking about his inexperience with prayer (“The first time I met [Mike Pence], he said, ‘Will you bow your head and pray?’ and I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I’m not used to it.”) At one point in the meeting, Trump interrupted a discussion about religious freedom to complain about Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and brag about the taunting nickname he’d devised for him. “I call him Little Ben Sasse,” Trump said. “I have to do it, I’m sorry. That’s when my religion always deserts me.”

And yet, by the end of the meeting—much of which was spent discussing the urgency of preventing trans women from using women’s restrooms—the candidate had the group eating out of his hand. “I’m not voting for Trump to be the teacher of my third grader’s Sunday-school class. That’s not what he’s running for,” Jeffress said in the meeting, adding, “I believe it is imperative … that we do everything we can to turn people out.”

The Faustian nature of the religious right’s bargain with Trump has not always been quite so apparent to rank-and-file believers. According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelicals are more than twice as likely as the average American to say that the president is a religious man. Some conservative pastors have described him as a “baby Christian,” and insist that he’s accepted Jesus Christ as his savior.

To those who have known and worked with Trump closely, the notion that he might have a secret spiritual side is laughable. “I always assumed he was an atheist,” Barbara Res, a former executive at the Trump Organization, told me. “He’s not a religious guy,” A. J. Delgado, who worked on his 2016 campaign, told me. “Whenever I see a picture of him standing in a group of pastors, all of their hands on him, I see a thought bubble [with] the words ‘What suckers,’” Mary Trump, the president’s niece, told me.

Greg Thornbury, a former president of the evangelical King’s College, who was courted by the campaign in 2016, told me that even those who acknowledge Trump’s lack of personal piety are convinced that he holds their faith in high esteem. “I don’t think for a moment that they would believe he’s cynical about them,” Thornbury said.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals refuse to learn from history. As I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, this is not the first time evangelicals got played by politicians in this way. Richard Nixon used Billy Graham. Ronald Reagan used Jerry Falwell Sr., Cal Thomas, and Ed Dobson. George W. Bush (or more accurately, Karl Rove) used the late David Kuo.

Today, the court evangelicals are empowering a narcissist, pathological liar, power-hungry wanna-be-tyrant who has probably done more harm to this country than any other American president. Yes, they got their Supreme Court justices and their Jerusalem embassy, but history will hold them accountable for their complicity. By November 3 they may very well be the only ones still clinging to this corrupt leader.

What Matthew 4 REALLY says about Christians and power

Recently an evangelical pastor who was a college of classmate of mine wrote to me praising Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court. He seemed very excited about the nomination and was surprised when I was not as excited as he was.

As I have argued, I think what McConnell did was wrong in 2016 when he refused to give Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing and a vote in the Senate. As many of you recall, McConnell claimed that since it was an election year the American people, through the ballot box, should decide who would replace the late Antonin Scalia on the bench. Trump won in 2016 and he nominated Neil Gorsuch. The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed him.

2020 is an election year. In fact, the election will take place in about a month. McConnell now seems to have no problem with confirming a Supreme Court justice in an election year. He is hard at work pushing Barrett through the system.

This evangelical pastor friend did not see any problem with McConnell’s blatant hypocrisy. Actually, I don’t even think he understands what McConnell did as a form of hypocrisy. As my old college acquaintance put it in his note to me, we now have a Republican president and a Republican Senate and “elections have consequences.”

Based on other exchanges I have had with this pastor, I highly doubt he would have said “elections have consequences” if the same thing happened with a Democratic president’s nominee and a Democratic-controlled Senate. He would instead be making an appeal to the Constitution or perhaps the scriptures. But I digress.

The GOP is licking its chops to confirm Barrett. Its members thus need some kind of argument to save face and explain that they are not hypocrites. Most of these GOP Senators and pundits believe that the Constitution should be interpreted based upon the original intent of the framers. But they are not consistent in this belief. They only claim original intent when it meets their needs. There is nothing in the Constitution that says a Supreme Court nominee in an election year can only get a Senate hearing if the president making the nomination is of the same political party as the party controlling the Senate. The GOP just made this up.

And if the GOP really believes the original intent of the founders is important, they should be talking about how the founders would be appalled at the rank partisanship driving this whole nomination and confirmation process.

But perhaps most revealing is the way this pastor reconciles 2016 (Obama and Garland) and 2020 (Trump and Barrett) with an appeal to raw power. Again, notice that he did not appeal to the Constitution, the Bible, or some other moral code to defend McConnell’s decision. The exact words he used to justify Barrett’s nomination were “Republicans in power. Elections have consequences.” In a single sentence he confirmed a major part of my argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Of course Jesus had a chance to obtain worldly power as well.

I recall that passage in Matthew 4 when Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if he would just bow down and worship him. When Jesus turned down Satan’s offer (“away from me Satan!”) God sent angels to attend to him. Jesus rejected worldly power and God was there to offer comfort and assurance in the form of the angels. The rest of the Gospel story, of course, is God showing how he would carry out his plan in another way–The Way–a way that did not require the kind of earthly power Satan was offering to Jesus.

But most people don’t know that in the 1980s Jerry Falwell Sr., while conducting a Moral Majority Holy Land tour, discovered early manuscripts of the Matthew 4 that show Jesus actually taking Satan’s deal. According to these ancient manuscripts, Jesus drove a hard bargain with Satan. In this manuscript Jesus specifically defined the “kingdoms of the world” as the future United States and demanded that Satan bring “splendor” to this kingdom by one day raising-up a morally bankrupt pagan leader (similar to King Cyrus of old) who would have the opportunity to appoint three Supreme Court justices. Satan agreed to deal, but fitting with his cunning spirit, took over 2000 years to fulfill his promise to Jesus.

What? You’ve never heard this before? It’s all there in the Lynchburg scrolls. The reason people don’t know about these scrolls is because the fake media won’t report on them.

🙂

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center meets all expectations at its “Get Louder” event

Yesterday, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the culture war wing of the largest Christian university in the world, held a 1-day conference titled “Get Louder: Faith Summit 2020.” Evangelical Trump supporters were encouraged to yell and scream more, fight more, and make sure that they were active on every social media platform. This is how the Kingdom of God will advance and Christian America will be saved because in the minds of the speakers, and probably most of those in attendance, there is little difference between the two. There was virtually nothing said about civility, humility, empathy, peace, compassion, the common good, or justice for people of color or the poor.

If there is any doubt that the Falkirk Center, with its angry and bitter political rhetoric and unswerving support of Donald Trump, represents Liberty University, those doubts were put to rest in the first fifteen minutes of the event. The day began with a video from the late Jerry Falwell Sr.:

This was followed by a welcome from Liberty University Provost Scott Hicks. Scott Lamb, Liberty’s Vice President for Communications, also welcomed the audience and praised the work of the Falkirk Center.

Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein introduced the day’s festivities:

The first plenary speaker was former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He started-off with a real “historical” whopper:

Much of Huckabee’s speech confused identity politics with “collectivism.” It was an ideological mess. The real socialist collectivists in America are no fan of identity politics.

And it wouldn’t be a Huckabee speech without some fearmongering:

Huckabee is disappointed with students on “evangelical campuses”:

Next came Ralph Reed, one of the primary architects of the Christian Right playbook. Reed sings one note:

The “Great Awakening” was ubiquitous at this event:

We’ve written about the “Black-Robed Brigade here.

Falkirk Center’s co-founder Charlie Kirk’s pastor spoke:

A general observation about the day:

And then Eric Metaxas showed-up:

I compared this session on the “Christian mind” to Bruce Springsteen’s convocation address last night at another Christian college–Jesuit-run Boston College:

Next-up, court evangelical Greg Locke:

Next-up, the anti-social justice crowd:

At the end of a long day Eric Metaxas came back for a solo speech:

Please read my recent Religion News Service piece in this context of these texts.

The court evangelicals respond to Donald Trump’s RNC convention speech and the aftermath

metaxas and Graham

Eric Metaxas and Franklin Graham were both in action (so to speak) at last night’s GOP convention

Last night I thought Franklin Graham offered a good opening prayer to kick-off the last night of the GOP convention. Today he sat for an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network. At times Graham tried to be bipartisan, but in the end this was pure court evangelicalism. This idea that the socialists (and other secular enemies) are coming to close our churches has a long, long history in American evangelicalism. As I wrote in Believe Me, evangelicals said the same thing about Thomas Jefferson in the run-up to the election of 1800. On another matter, it is disingenuous for Graham to claim that he is “just one man” and does not speak for a significant portion of American evangelicalism. There are white evangelicals who hang on every word he says.  Watch:

Court evangelical Eric Metaxas showed us how to blind-side a protester and backpedal to safety. In this August 22, 2020 interview, Metaxas talks with fellow court evangelical Greg Laurie about “the role of virtue in the public square.” Metaxas notes how Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks were known for “turning the other cheek.” He laments the way “rage” and “violence” are “setting the [Christian cause] backward and confusing people.” He even speaks of non-violence as a Christian virtue. This 15-minute interview is interesting (to say the least) in light of what Metaxas did last night. Jab and move, jab and move.

Jack Graham ran into some trouble last night, along with dozens of other court evangelicals:

Two things are going on in this tweet. First, Graham’s story appears to be true. I am not sure how Graham was able to interrogate the “thugs” and “infidels” about their political ideology (Marxism), but he is right to suggest that this kind of harassment needs to stop. Second, Graham is playing to the base. He did not punch the protesters like Metaxas did, but Graham is obviously hoping his tweet will serve Trump politically by scaring evangelicals to pull a lever for the president in November.

If I recall correctly, in the New Testament Jesus stopped on the road to Golgotha with the old rugged cross on his shoulder and called his tormentors “thugs” and “infidels.” He then asked God to stop the insanity.

The same goes for Paula White:

I am guessing that Gary Bauer believed Trump delivered last night for the Christian Right

Ralph Reed saw his “good friend” Jack Abramoff Rudy Giuliani:

Reed and Giuliani

Robert Jeffress spent some time at the court today:

And then he talked with Lou Dobbs about it. There is no one “kinder and more gracious” than Donald Trump “and that’s what “makes him such an effective leader”:

67 days to go. I am afraid it is going to get a lot worse.

“Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” at the Reintegrate Podcast

My old divinity school friend Bob Robinson runs Reintegrate, a ministry that helps Christians integrate faith, life, and vocation. I recently joined Bob and his co-host Brendan Romigh on the Reintegrate podcast to talk about Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Listen here or watch below.

It’s a two part-episode. Next week we will talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Moral reflection in the doing and teaching of history (part two). Or is *Believe Me* a work of history?

Why Study HistoryRead part one here.

This post is adapted from Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.

Here are five suggestions for those who want to pursue Robert Gleason’s idea that the historian should always ask whether or not what happened in the past was “good.”

First, the historian’s primary responsibility is explanation and understanding, not moral criticism. They are not called to give their opinions about the past. Such activity is better left to the ethicists, theologians, and politicians. Those who do want to offer some level of moral reflection on the past should do so only after they, their students, or their readers have fully grasped what happened in the past and why it happened the way it did. Sometimes this kind of moral reflection works better in the classroom than it does in a book, article, or museum exhibit.

Second, when historian do speak and write ethically about what happened in the past, they should do so with caution so that preaching does not trump historical interpretation. In other words, historians should speak as historians to the moral concerns of the public. Historians, like everyone else, have opinions, and in the United States they are free to express those opinions, but when speaking to the public as historians they must do so with the goal of bringing historical thinking skills to bear on the issue at hand. As James Banner has noted, “Reform may arise from historical knowledge, but bringing about reform is the province of others–or at least historians on their days off.”

Third, when a historian engages in moralizing about the past, it should be characterized by mature moral thinking. Let’s think about this from the perspective of the Christian historian.  The Bible and church tradition provide Christians with a source of truth that enables them to shed moral light on all of human life, regardless of the era. But for Christian historians to engage in moral criticism well, they must have an adequate theological and biblical understanding of the Christian tradition. Sunday school Bible proof-texting will not cut it. Nor will moral platitudes (Hitler was “evil” or “The Declaration of Independence should be praised because it mentions “the Creator”) that are not grounded in deep theological or ethical thinking. At least one historian has even suggested that historians interested in doing “moral history” should first be trained in the discipline of moral philosophy.”

Fourth, historians should make moral judgments in an implicit rather than explicit manner. Christians who write history should take to heart the words of Adrian Oldfield:

If the historian litters his account of the past with explicit, stentorian, moral judgments, then the result is likely to be a very ugly piece of historical writing indeed, however much attention he scrupulously pays to evidence. But more judgments do not have to be delivered in such a thunderous manner. Historians can make clear their moral positions implicitly, in terms of the language they use, and in the tone and style of composition.

Historians should also avoid explicit moralizing because we, like the historical actors we write and teach about, are flawed humans. This belief should always be on the mind of historians as the thunder their moral prophetic condemnations on people in the past. George Marsden summarizes it well: “We can point out that we ourselves probably have similar blind spots and that, even though our mistreatment or neglect of our neighbors may not be as notorious or spectacular, we share a common humanity with those whose action we deplore.” This can be the most difficult part of writing moral history and it must always be balanced with the Christian’s or citizen’s responsibility to speak truth to power. Individual historians will strike this balance in different ways.

Fifth, and finally, historians should also remember to see historical actors as morally complex individuals before casting judgment on them. Thomas Jefferson might have been the champion of the ordinary farmer, religious freedom, public education, and small government, but he was also a slaveholder. Or to put this differently, Jefferson owned slaves, but he was also influential in promoting the democratic ideas that eventually led to emancipation. The complexity of the past will often trigger our moral imaginations. In a time when our politicians and students rest too comfortably in certitude, history’s moral turn may help “create productive confusion and a willingness to recognize that behind all our moral choices, whether past or present, lurks paradox, tragedy, and irony.”

Several people who read Why Study History? have asked me how my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and my regular criticism of Trump and the evangelicals who support him intersects with what I have written above. It’s a great question. Let me try to explain.

What I have written above is how I approach teaching and writing history–my primary vocation. But I also engage the public–especially here at the blog–as a father and husband, son of the working class, white educated male, seminary graduate, professor at a small college on the margins of academia and, most importantly, as a Christian. All of these identities inform my opinions, commentaries, and moral critiques. Often times they merge in such a way that makes it impossible to break them apart. As one of my favorite writers Richard Rodriguez once told the graduating class at Kenyon College, “life is a whole.”

I do not teach the way I write at this blog. Nor do I teach with the same political and moral tone that readers encounter in Believe Me. In fact, I don’t really understand Believe Me as a work of traditional history. It is too overtly political to call it that. Of course all of my books have some political dimension to them. I do not pretend that politics does not play a significant role in every historian’s work.  (Although I do lament that only one form of political thinking dominates the academy). But whatever kind of politics inform my other books, I made every effort in those books to read the record as honestly as possible and keep my own moral voice limited. In Believe Me, however, I let it rip. I stepped outside the historian’s traditional role and tried to speak as a Christian to my own tribe of Christians.

One more thing. Though Believe Me was unlike any of my other books, I think I still approached the subject as a historical thinker. As I tell my students, when a person learns to think historically it is hard to think about the world any other way, even when you are offering opinion and commentary.  In Believe Me I did my best to understand Trump and his evangelical supporters. I tried to interrogate claims like “Make America Great Again” from my training and expertise as a historian. I tried to marshal historical evidence to help readers see why evangelicals flocked to Trump. I also tried to take a long view and situate Trump’s evangelicals in a larger context that spans several centuries. This makes Believe Me different from other books about Trump and evangelicals. I tried to understand my subject historically and then, and only then, offer moral criticism in accordance with my training in Christian theology. In the end, I think I was somewhat consistent with what I wrote above and in Why Study History?

I am currently working on another book of history. But I also think I have some more historically-inflected opinion and commentary in me as well. Thanks for helping me think through this in public. For those familiar with Why Study History? you know that these last several paragraphs have moved the discussion beyond what I wrote in that book.

Members of the GOP join forces with progressive Christians against Trump

VCG-Social-Sharing

On July 17, 2017 (about a year before Eerdmans published Believe Me), I wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post titled “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.” In that piece I wrote:

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.

Read the rest of my piece here.

The Trump presidency has led to all sorts of new political realignments. For example, could anyone imagine that members of the Republican Party might join forces with progressive, social justice Christians in an attempt to convince Christians in the GOP to vote for Biden?

Here is Gabby Orr at Politico:

A left-leaning group focused on persuading religious Americans to vote out Donald Trump in November has recruited some of the president’s leading Republican agitators to assist them.

On Wednesday, Vote Common Good will launch a new partnership with the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump GOP group founded by veteran Republican strategists, to mobilize faith voters to reject Trump on Election Day.

The initiative will focus on courting white evangelicals and white Catholics — two demographics Trump won by significant margins in 2016 — who have lost patience with the president’s behavior or been disappointed with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protest movement against racism. The efforts will be concentrated in six battleground states — North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida — where multiple polls have shown Trump trailing his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Read the rest here.

Nostalgia for a past that never existed

Believe Me 3dIn Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I wrote:

It is easy for white evangelicals to look back fondly on American history. There is, of course, a lot to celebrate. We are a nation founded on the belief that human beings are “endowed by Creator with certain inalienable rights, namely, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We have established some of the greatest colleges and universities in the world. Our standard of living exceeds those in other countries. When we have failed to live up to our idea we have made efforts to correct our moral indiscretions. Those who fought tirelessly to end slavery, curb the negative effects of alcohol, defend human life, and deliver rights to women and the less fortunate come to mind. Americans have proven that they can act with a sense of common purpose and unity. We have seen the American character on display, for example, during two World Wars and in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And the United States has always been a place where immigrants can come and start new lives.

At the same time, America is a nation that has been steeped in racism, xenophobia, imperialism, violence, materialism, and a host of other practices that do not conform very well to the ethical demands that Christianity places upon our lives. Christians should be very careful when they long for the days when America was apparently “great.” Too many conservative evangelicals view the past through the lens of nostalgia. Scholar Svetlana Boym describes nostalgia as a “sentiment of loss and displacement” that “inevitably reappears as a defense mechanism in a time of accelerated rhythms of life and historical upheavals.” In this sense, nostalgia is closely related to fear. In times of great social and cultural change, the nostalgic person will turn to a real or an imagined past as an island of safety amid the raging storms of progress. In other words, to quote Boym again, “progress didn’t cure nostalgia but exacerbated it.” Sometimes evangelicals will seek refuge from change in a Christian past that never existed in the first place. At other times they will try to travel back to a Christian past that did exist–but, like the present, was compromised by sin.

Is it possible to long for a past that never existed? According to Felipe De Brigard, a Duke University scholar who works at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, it is indeed possible. Here is a taste of his piece at Aeon titled, “Nostalgia reimagined“:

I will conclude with a brief speculation on a topic of contemporary importance. In the past few years, we’ve seen a resurgence of nationalistic political movements that have gained traction by way of promoting a return to the ‘good old days’: ‘Make America Great Again’ in the US, or ‘We Want Our Country Back’ in the UK. These politics of nostalgia promote the implementation of policies that, supposedly, would return nations to times in which people were better off. Unsurprisingly, such politics are usually heralded by conservative groups who, in the past, tended to be better off than they currently are – independently of the particular politics of the time. In a 2016 study conducted by the Polish social psychologists Monika Prusik and Maria Lewicka, a large sample of Poles were asked nostalgia-related questions about how things were prior to the fall of communism 25 years earlier. The results revealed that people felt much more nostalgic and had more positive feelings about the communist government if they were better off then than now, if they were older, and if they were currently unhappy. Doubtlessly, older and conservative-leaning folk who perceive their past – whether accurately or not – as better than their present account for a significant portion of the electorate supporting nationalistic movements. But we’d be misled to think of them as the primary engine, let alone the majority. For the Polish results show something very different: a large number of younger individuals avidly supporting nostalgic policies that would return their nations to a past they never experienced.

The psychological underpinnings of this phenomenon would be hard to explain under the traditional view of nostalgia. If people have not experienced a past, how can they feel nostalgic about it? However, under the view proposed here, an explanation is readily available. For the politics of nostalgia doesn’t capitalise on people’s memories of particular past events they might have experienced. Instead, it makes use of propaganda about the way things were, in order to provide people with the right episodic materials to conjure up imaginations of possible scenarios that most likely never happened. These very same propagandistic strategies help to convince people that their current situation is worse than it actually is, so that when the simulated content – which, when attended, brings about positive emotions – is juxtaposed to negatively valenced thoughts about their present status, a motivation to eliminate this emotional mismatch ensues, and with it an inclination to political action. The politics of nostalgia has less to do with memories about a rosy past, and more with propaganda and misinformation. This suggests, paradoxically, that the best way to counteract it might be to improve our knowledge of the past. Nostalgia can be a powerful political motivator, for better or for worse. Improving the accuracy of our memory for the past could indeed be the best strategy to curb the uncharitable deceptions of the politics of nostalgia.

Read the entire piece here.

What I wrote about Trump and Andrew Jackson in *Believe Me*

Trump Jackson

I am not an Andrew Jackson scholar, but I have taught him for more than two decades. In the U.S. survey I usually frame my treatment of Jackson in terms of the tensions between what historian Harry Watson calls “Liberty and Power.” I discuss with my students how different groups in America understood the nullification crisis, Indian removal, and the debate over the National Bank. Some viewed Jackson as a defender of “liberty,” while others interpreted these events in terms of Jackson’s tyranny and unbridled use of presidential “power.”

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I wrote about Trump’s relationship with Jackson. Here is a taste:

Donald Trump did not find Andrew Jackson; Andrew Jackson found him. When historians and pundits began to compare Trump the populist with Jackson the populist, the candidate took notice. Moreover, Jackson is a favorite of Steve Bannon, Trump’s former political adviser and campaign manager. [And Dan Feller has recently taught us that much of Bannon’s understanding of Jackson is filtered through conservative commentator Walter Russell Mead].  By the time Trump entered the White House in late January 2017, an 1835 Ralph E.W. Earle portrait of Andrew Jackson was hanging in the Oval Office. In March 2017, Trump visited Jackson’s home in Nashville and laid a wreath on his tomb to commemorate the seventh president’s 250th birthday. There was also, of course, Trump’s misinformed claim about Jackson and the Civil War:

“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, “There is no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

Historians were quick to jump on the president’s comments by pointing out that the overwhelming consensus is that the Civil War was fought over slavery. Andrew Jackson owned a hundred slaves and had always been a strong advocate for the spread of the institution into the West of this country. Jackson died in 1845; the Civil War began in 1861. And if Jackson had been around to do something about the tensions between North and South, he would have probably sympathized with the Confederacy,

Andrew Jackson was the president of the United States during what historians call the “Age of Democracy.” Universal manhood suffrage (the right for white men to vote regardless of how much property they owned), the rise of something akin to the modern political parties, and the influx of millions of new immigrants, changed American politics forever. Democracy in that era empowered white men. While nothing close to social equality emerged then, political participation did reach an all-time high. Jackson’s life story, which was characterized by a rise from poverty and hardship, made him the ideal man to lead the country in this new democratic age. His popularity among ordinary voters was unprecedented. By the time he entered office in 1829, Jackson had risen above the hardships of his past, had a national reputation as  an Indian fighter and slaveowner, and was well known as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, the last battle of the War of 1812. Jackson was a man of passion who often let his temper get the best of him. His lack of self-control prompted the elderly Thomas Jefferson to wonder whether Jackson’s emotional volatility might disqualify him from the presidency.

Jackson won 56 percent of the vote in the 1828 presidential election and, as a result, believed that he had a mandate to serve the people who cast ballots on his behalf. Jackson viewed himself as a savior of the ordinary farmers and workers who voted form him by the millions, and his commitment to these men shaped his policy decisions, especially when he dealt with the elites who controlled American financial institutions such as the National Bank. Jackson was a strong nationalist: during the nullification crisis, he turned against South Carolina, a state filled with fellow slaveholders, because he did not believe that a state had the right to reject any law (in the case of South Carolina it was a tariff law) over the sovereign will of the American people as represented in the Union. When the passion-filled Jackson asked Congress to pass a “force bill” enabling him to use the army to crush dissent in the Palmetto state, talk of civil war was in the air. In the end cooler heads prevailed and Congress reached a compromise to avoid secession and military conflict. Jackson’s show of force further solidified his support among the nation’s working people.

During his speech at Jackson’s tomb, Donald Trump described the former president as a “product of his times.” This was especially true when it came to race, slavery, and Jackson’s policy toward Native Americans. Much of Jackson’s Southern constituency relied on the president to defend slavery and white supremacy, and the president was more than happy to oblige. As we saw in chapter 3, many of these slaveholders lived in fear of insurrections. Poor whites who did not own slaves worried about what might happen to them if slaves were set free and forced to integrate into white society. For example, in 1835, during his second term as president, Jackson, in a blatant attempt to limit free speech, tries to stop the United States Post Office from delivering abolitionist literature into the South. “Democracy” was white.

When it came to Native Americans, Jackson believed that they were racially inferior and an impediment to the advancement of white settlement across the continent. He eventually developed what he described as a “just, humane, liberal policy toward the Indian” that would remove them from their lands to unoccupied territory west of the Mississippi. He believed that he was a great father to the Indians. He explained his decision to oust them from their ancestral lands by claiming that he was protecting them from a possible race war with white drunk on Manifest Destiny. Drunk or not, the white men who voted for him in 1828 and 1832 simply wanted Indians out of the way. Jackson, as a steward of the people who supported him in a democratic election, needed to act in response to their will. During the 1830s, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole Indians from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, escorted by the United States Army, embarked on what has been described as the “Trail of Tears.” Thousands of natives made the 800-mile trek to Jackson’s new “Indian Territory,” located in what is Oklahoma today.

It is fair to call Andrew Jackson a populist president. By the time he took office, he was a wealthy man, but he always presented himself as one of the people, a defender of the “humble members of society–the farmers, mechanics, and laborers.” Yes, as we have seen, Jackson’s nationalism, populism, and commitment to democracy was deeply charged with racial hatred and the defense of white supremacy. Is this the era of American history that Donald Trump has in mind when he says he wants to make America great again?

What I wrote about John Lewis in *Believe Me*

Lewis dead

p.176: “But the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than unite them. His approach to history also reveals his narcissism. When Trump says that he doesn’t care how ‘America first’ was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of ‘law and order,’ he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story. As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of nonviolent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: ‘Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.’

p.185: “As I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, I wondered if I could ever muster the courage of John Lewis and Joanne Bland as they marched into the face of terror on Bloody Sunday. Such audacity requires hope.

Believe Me 3d

The Complicit Court Evangelicals

COurt Evangelicals

I just finished “Collaborators,” Anne Applebaum‘s brilliant essay in the July/August 2020 issue of The Atlantic. It is subtitled: “What causes people to abandon their principles in support of a corrupt regime? And how do they find their way back?”

Applebaum writes about Trump supporters and members of the administration who have abandoned longstanding principles in order to support the corrupt presidency of Donald Trump. Throughout the essay she compares and contrasts people like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and others with similar “collaborators” drawn from her experience covering Eastern Europe under communism.

She writes

Czeslaw Milosz, a Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, wrote about collaboration from personal experience. An active member of the anti-Nazi resistance during the war, he nevertheless wound up after the war as a cultural attache at the Polish embassy in Washington, serving his country’s Communist government. Only in 1951 did he defect, denounce the regime, and dissect his experience. In a famous essay, The Captive Mind, he sketched several lightly disguised portraits of real people, all writers and intellectuals, each of whom had come up with different ways of justifying collaboration with the party. Many were careerists, but Milosz understood that careerism could not provide a complete explanation. To be part of a mass movement was for many a chance to end their alienation, to feel close to the “masses,” to be united in a single community with workers and shopkeepers. For tormented intellectuals, collaboration also offered a kind of relief, almost a sense of peace: It meant that they were no longer constantly at war with the state, no longer in turmoil. Once the intellectual has accepted that there is no other way, Milosz wrote, ‘he eats with relish, his movement take on vigor, his color returns. He sits down and writes a ‘positive’ article, marveling at the ease with which he writes it.’ Milosz is one of the few writers to acknowledge the pleasure of conformity, the lightness of heart that it grants, the way that is solves so many perceived and professional dilemmas.

And this:

20 months into the Trump administration, senators and other serious-minded Republicans in public life who should have known better began to tell themselves stories that sound very much like those in Milosz’s The Captive Mind. Some of these stories overlap with one another; some of them are just thin cloaks to cover self-interest. But all of them are familiar justifications of collaboration, recognizable from the past. 

Applebaum then lists the “most popular” forms of collaboration or complicity:

  1. “We can use this moment to achieve great things.”
  2. “We can protect the country from the president.”
  3. “I personally, will benefit.”
  4. “I remain close to power.”
  5. “LOL nothing matters.”
  6. “My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.”
  7. “I am afraid to speak out.”

I could not help but think about Applebaums’s seven forms of collaboration in light of my own work on Trump’s court evangelicals. (She does mention a few of them in the essay).  It seems like most of these forms of complicity, to one degree or another, explain why so many conservative evangelicals stand with this immoral president.

1. “We can use this moment to achieve great things.” When most conservative evangelicals talk about “great things” they have abortion, traditional marriage, and religious liberty in mind. They are thus willing to collaborate with Trump in order to accomplish these things. Applebaum tells the story of a man named Mark, a Trump administration official. Mark works for the administration, he claims, because he believes Trump is going to help the Uighurs.

She writes:

I thought I had misheard. The Uighurs? Why the Uighurs? I was unaware of anything that the administration had done to aid the oppressed Muslim minority in Xinjiang, China. Mark assured me that letters had been written, statements had been made, the president himself had been persuaded to say something at the United Nations. I doubted very much that the Uiguhrs had benefited from these empty words: China hadn’t altered its behavior, and the concentration camps built for the Uighurs were still standing. Nevertheless, Mark’s conscience was clear. Yes, Trump was destroying America’s reputation in the world, and yes, Trump was ruining America’s alliances, but Mark was so important to the cause of the Uiguhrs that people like him, in good conscience, keep working for the administration.

(Since Applebaum published this essay, John Bolton has written that Trump endorsed the mass detention of Uighur Muslims).

Many court evangelicals justify their support of Trump because they believe he will act on the policy issues they care about. They can use Trump to accomplish “great’ things and make the world a better place.

2. “We can protect the country from the president.” I am not sure many court evangelicals are making this argument. Why would they want to protect the country from a president who derives his power from almighty God?

3. “I, personally, will benefit.” On this one Applebaum writes:

These, of course, are words that few people every say out loud. Perhaps some do quietly acknowledge to themselves that they have not resigned or protested because it would cost them money or status. But no one wants a reputation as a careerist or a turncoat.

Of course no court evangelical will ever say that she or he supports Trump to gain a greater following or to become a Christian “leader” or to get rich. But we would be kidding ourselves if we think that this has nothing to do with it. Much of the court evangelical phenomenon can be explained by ambition and money and branding. They know where their bread is buttered. Just listen to Greg Thornbury talk about Eric Metaxas. Or head to Google and type in your favorite court evangelical’s name followed by the words “net worth.”

4. “I must remain close to power.”  I wrote extensively about the court evangelical pursuit of power in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Virtually every Christian Right operative who has left the movement or criticized it has said something similar to former Moral Majority leaders Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson. Here is what I wrote in Believe Me:

…in 1999, Dobson and Thomas reflected soberly on their experience with Falwell and the Moral Majority in their book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? They concluded that the answer to the subtitle’s question was a definitive “no.” Neither Dobson nor Thomas left evangelicalism or ceased their commitment to conservative causes; but they were forced to admit that the political strategy they helped to forge in the 1980s had failed. Despite their efforts, Roe v. Wade had not been overturned. The Internet had made pornography more accessible than ever. Drug use had not subsided and crime had not dissipated in any significant way. In the process, the prophetic witness of the evangelical church was subordinated to political power and all its trappings. As Cal Thomas put it, in a reference to Palm Sunday, “Who wanted to ride into the capital on the back of an ass when one could go first class in a private jet and be picked up and driven around in a chauffeured limousine?

Thomas, who parlayed his Moral Majority fame into a nationally syndicated newspaper column, did not mince words when he disparaged the evangelical pursuit of political power. “Christian faith is about truth,” he tells his readers, and “wherever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.” Through his years with Falwell, Thomas learned how power is the “ultimate aphrodisiac.” It is not only seductive, but all affects the judgment of the one who “takes it.” Thomas warned his evangelical readers who the case for political power threatens the spread of the gospel. He quoted the late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen: “The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the gospel is the greatest temptation of all.” Thomas pointed to the myriad ways in which the Moral Majority–and the Christian Right agenda that it spawned–played to the fears of white evangelicals. 

5. “LOL nothing matters.” I don’t think any court evangelical would embrace the kind of nihilism Applebaum writes about under this category, but I wonder if the rapture beliefs of some conservative evangelical Trump supporters might be relevant here. If the world will end at any moment, and true believers will be lifted from this earth to be with Jesus in heaven, then why not take a risk on a chaos candidate? If he defends the rights of churches, there will be more opportunities to preach the Gospel and get people to heaven.

6. “My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.” On this point, Applebaum addresses court evangelicalism. She writes:

The Republican senators who are willing to express their disgust with Trump off the record but voted in February for him to remain in office all indulge a variation of this sentiment. (Trump enables them to get the judges they want, and those judges will help create the America they want.) So do the evangelical pastors who ought to be disgusted by Trump’s personal behavior but argue, instead, that the current situation has scriptural precedents. Like King David in the Bible, the president is a sinner, a flawed vessel, but he nevertheless offers a path to salvation for a fallen nation.

The three most important members of Trump’s Cabinet–Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Willial Barr–are all profoundly shaped by Vichyite apocalyptic thinking. All three are clever enough to understand what Trumpism really means, that is has nothing to do with God or faith, that it is self-serving, greedy, and unpatriotic. Nevertheless, a former member of the administration (one of the few who did decide to resign) told me that Pence and Pompeo “have convinced themselves that they are in a biblical moment.” All of the things they care about–outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage, and (though this is never said out loud) maintaining a white majority in America–are under threat. Time is growing short. They believe that “we are approaching the rapture, and this is a moment of deep religious significance.”

If one’s political philosophy is shaped by this sense of apocalyptic urgency, it makes sense the Hillary Clinton (and now Joe Biden) may be the Antichrist. It would also make perfect sense to instill fear in followers about what might happen if Trump is defeated in 2020.

7. “I am afraid to speak out.”  Applebaum writes:

In the United Sates of America, it is hard to imagine how fear could be a motivation for anybody. There are no mass murders of the regime’s political enemies, and there never have been. Political opposition is legal, free press and free speech are guaranteed in the Constitution. And yet even in one of the world’s oldest and most stable democracies, fear is a motive. The same former administration official who observed the importance of apocalyptic Christianity in Trump’s Washington told me, with grim disgust, that “they are all scared.”

They are scared not of prison, the official said, but of being attacked by Trump on Twitter. They are scared he will make up a nickname for them. They are scared that they will be mocked, or embarrassed, like Mitt Romney has been. They are scared of losing their social circles, of being disinvited to parties. They are scared that their friends and supporters, and especially their donors, will desert them…They are scared, and yet they don’t seem to know that this fear has precedents, or that it could have consequences. They don’t know that similar waves of fear have helped transform other democracies into dictatorships….

To what extent are court evangelical leaders and pastors scared to stand-up to Trump’s immorality because they might lose their congregations or donations for their evangelical media empires? Sometimes this kind of fear is covered-up by pious rhetoric about “civility” and “unity in the body of Christ.” Christian leaders of all stripes don’t want to rock the boat because they might offend Trump supporters.

You can read Applebaum’s entire piece here.

“You can’t apply these scriptural ideas about loving your neighbor until you first understand that actually wearing a mask is to protect you neighbor.”

President_Trump_is_joined_by_Vice_President_Pence_for_an_Executive_Order_signing_(33803971533)_(2)

Yes, I said this.

Check out Peter Nicholas’s article on Mike Pence at The Atlantic.

A taste:

In public, Pence takes pains to ensure that he and the president are aligned. On June 26, at the task force’s first public briefing in two months, he delivered the Trumpian message that “truly remarkable progress” had been made fighting the coronavirus, despite a worrisome rise in cases in dozens of states.

I asked the task-force member why, at times, Pence hasn’t worn a mask in public to model responsible behavior. Is it because he doesn’t want Trump to see and take umbrage? “That’s the only reason,” this person said. “He’ll wear it in a microsecond. He doesn’t want to egregiously look like he’s opposing the president.” (Asked about Pence’s mask-wearing message, John Fea, a historian and the author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, referenced Pence’s Christian identity: “You can’t apply these scriptural ideas about loving your neighbor until you first understand that actually wearing a mask is to protect your neighbor.”)

Read the entire piece here.